Thursday, 22 September 2011

PowWow Litfest

This weekend it was off to Birmingham to support Deor as Matthew Hammond the Stand Up Philosopher. We arrived in the morning to catch up with good friend Robin (an artist/musician and mental nurse), and then set off for the venue. We parked nearby the capacious pub with its varied areas. The Prince of Wales in Moseley has an old world feel with leather settles with brass studs, bits of stained glass, is quite dark but in a Victorian railway kind of way, has moose head over one of the mantles and generally has the tobacco stained look on dark polished wood. However the function room is more cosy with jacquard cushions, and the larger garden another world! Under a roof, there are many antique-style tables and chairs including a very large octagonal table with classic motifs, colourfully upholstered on carved wooden dining chairs, with icicle fairylights. Then there is a kitchen (the only food?) only staffed at suppertime by folks who come in to cook vegetarian Indian 'street food' which looked authentic, a little shed that was a winecellar (!) seeling only wines, and advising on bottles looking French with bit of raffia attached and a little cart, and then a dodgy-looking pink lit lounge and then a large marquee with a tropical themed cocktail bar! Complete with bamboo, shells, cocktail bartenders in flowery shirts with loads of cocktail shaking going on, huge colourful drinks with endless straws and parasols, and the occasional flambe of said drinks, some of which looked like they were about to set the bamboo on fire! Plus a mixture of benches, ancient upholstered settle in a corner, red leather Chesterfield sofas (a feature at lit fests it seems! Velvet or leather, red or green!) and classy stools and modern solid pine benches, picnic tables and 'proper' tables, rectangular or bistro circles...all in all an extraordinary mixture of a pub!
   The Litfest was held in the garden, and the speakers and performers in the tropical area. There was a well stocked book stall, amusing comperes, representatives from both agents and publishers, plus a publishing debate, and creative work from authors including the organizer, novelist Andy Killeen, plus music and all in all a really buzzy atmosphere. The slam was a very interesting one, involving composing short pieces of fiction during intervals with the three heats spread out over the evening! Which explained the earnest-looking folks surrounded by sheets of paper in the corners. Much of the day and evening and the venue was packed, needing the steward and hand-stamp system employed for order and entry.
   Matthew Hammond the Stand Up Philosopher was at 9pm, and I went on to introduce him and the idea of 'stand up philosophy', also to mention the books and website (as that can really break frame when performing! when does one mention them?) and he then did four pieces, all of them brilliant - a thought provoking Foucault, still with the power to make one start with revelation, a timely, telling and funny rendition of Moore's fabulous fantastical satire 'Utopia', the searingly scintillating '3 Minute Marx', and to finish, Nietzsche's barbed but side-splitting critique of Kant, done as storytelling. Books were sold, hands were shaken, and folks said some lovely things. 'That was brilliant!' 'Highly entertaining' and 'really unusual' being some of them.
    All in all, it was a great weekend, with as as well the buzzy LitFest and storming set, a lovely afternoon wandering round parks and city streets with old friend Robin, stopping at the MAC arts centre for coffees, dodging the heavy showers by some miracle, and going round beautiful historic Worcester on the way up and hearing the organ thundering as the keyboardist was practicing at the stunning Gloucester Cathedral on the way back...with the Saxon ruins of the original building all picturesque just nearby...So ends the summer season of festivals - big thanks to Andy for making it end with a bang!
   And affectionate thanks to Robin and Clare for making it so extra special.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Then the Bunkfest!

The following weekend, it was the Bunkfest, billed as music, dance, steam and beer! With storytelling, as last year in the lovely courtyard of the George Hotel and with Tim o'the Oak (from the Forest of Dean), and Tina Blibe (former secretary to the Society of Storytelling). And they were both charming to perform with! The Saturday and we did 2-6pm, taking it in turns, three sets and then a ten to fifteen minute break throughout the day, with a storyteller's corner where we all sat together to watch or to talk and drink companionably in the intervals. We heard some thoughtful tales, some hilarious, and some pretty wacky anecdotes too! And delivered tales and riddles ourselves, which went down well - the audiences we had, as Tim observed, were lovely! And built until folks were standing at the back with nowhere to sit, having come specially. The latter was very kind after a rendition of 'Tippingee' - 'I wish someone had been filming that, it was magic!' We used fabric to drape over the audience at various points, and it seem to work pretty well. Shucks.
   Lastly, that night, at the aptly names 'Late Night Club' event held in the sports centre (it doesn't start until 11pm!), we did - after a very long day wandering round the stalls and attractions, watching dark Morris dancers, and missing things as usual as we were either on at the same time or getting ready to go on! - our Carnival of Monsters (a short version for a late night and very drunken audience). After carting in all the monsters earlier and storing them under a large pool table, as directed, we then had to arrive and fish them all out again, plus signs, liaise with the host, and when I found out we were going to be on last! before the open sessions, I promptly went back to the van to go to sleep! asking Deor to wake me twenty minutes before we were on... In a way of course, it's a compliment to be the culmination or finale or whathaveyou of the evening... On the other hand, late nights are not my thing, as I tend to like to get up earlier in the mornings than that time pattern would permit.
   However at quarter to one in the morning, I was woken up, and in a terrible temper which I strove - and I venture to say managed - to master, I got up, got into costume, assembled the props, and then waited near the stage, until we were introduced, and I walked on, taking the microphone and announcing 'Welcome to Widsith and Deor Storytelling Theatre's one and only Carnival of Monsters!' or words to that effect. They were a rowdy crowd, of course, some there for the late bar and all mainly for music and dance, but they listened, shouted, and when the Diablo came forward, when I (as Il Vappo the Ringmaster from Old Venice) had summoned up the Devil, the place went silent, just for a few moments, and then booing and hissing as folks recognized 'who it was', and then joining in the banishing incantation at the end... It was a success! Rowdy, noisy, a bar and music environment, wholly unexpected as we were, we caught their attention, engaged their senses, and evoked their responses...afterward there was much praise, folks stopping Deor and requesting to take pictures of him as various monsters, and a lovely comment from the host 'Absolutely wonderful - I've never seen anything like it before.' That's what we like to hear!
   In the middle of the night in the alcoholic haze, I wondered (as we took the monsters back to their table to await being picked up at 8.15am on Sunday morning, and went back to the van to change and get some much needed sleep) how many would look back and wonder if it was a certainly seemed like one to me!
   Big thanks to Dave of the Bunkfest for having us again, and to Tim and Tina for being such good comrades in tale telling!

Poetry Unplugged

Three days after returning from the Beautiful Days, it was time to be off again - to catch up with friends and family in Oxford/Oxfordshire and London/Surrey, and Poetry Unplugged at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden and then the Bunkfest in Wallingford.
   Niall Sullivan hosted with his usual aplomb and humour, and there were many quality acts, many newcomers having learnt their pieces and reciting/performing them with remarkable confidence and verbal dexterity. One performer even making the comic but time worn subject of essay deadlines (he was a student) more than engaging - moving, meaningful and rather original as well as involving the expected laughs! No mean feat. Another had a poem about the big cosmic stuff of the origins and size of the universe, mixing science, awe and some emotive/evocative strands about our place in it and what we should make of it. Most performed well, but those were the two (I haven't had time to write this blog as swiftly after events as I would have liked) at this distance that I recall most clearly. Matthew Hammond as the Stand Up Philosopher was scintillating as ever, and I think my set (I got it over with first as then I could relax, and no one else was volunteering to kick off proceedings!) went well. Folks certainly seemed to be listening, and fully engaged/interested as I handed them tiny presents with words in as part of the piece/set.
 Thanks to Niall for having us again and being so accommodating, and to our friend Nathan for coming along to support us again, and for a lovely day in Soho cafes and at the British Museum!

Beautiful Days

After the Big Chill, had a few days to get our breath back, and pack up a less monster-filled and more craft based pack, and then it was time to be off for the Beautiful Days! This time there was storytelling gear to take as we were booked for storytelling and then the whole group (us and Andy and Mandy etc. of the Collective) for craft workshops; a couple of monsters, smaller ones generally for storytelling, a giant unicorn head (for the parade) and a heap of willow and fabric and leather for the workshops. Plus of course signs including our lovely new hand-painted ones (thanks Steve!) and book stock. It was really nice not to have to pitch a marquee, and we managed to negotiate space in Crew Camping at the top of the hill so that we were parked right by Andi and Mandy's big truck and they had space to put up their big awning as a chill out zone for all of us, which was good. The weather on Friday? morning was terrible - the rain poured down and found every tiny hole in the tarpaulins or joins, and every channel in the floor to make streams in! But with a mixture of desperation and ingenuity, they found ways of securing it to keep us all dry. And thankfully, that was pretty much all it did! So like the Big Chill, while it did rain, it soon dried up and I didn't even have to wear wellies, as it drained so well... The moon rises and sunset were (like the Big Chill) beautiful as the site is Escot Park, and like Eastnor Deer Park, it's rolling countryside with views across the bowl of the main site in the vale below, echoing Glastonbury.
   The storytelling part (6-9pm daily) went down well, thanks to Ruth for hosting the sessions! We built audiences and some people (to my amazement) came to every single session!! And we got lots of applause and some lovely comments including 'Your badinage is wonderful.' Deor was part of the Majical Youth parade to open the attractions as the giant unicorn, accompanied by an old friend dressed and masked as Mr. Punch (one of the 'monsters' from our Monster Carnival). And the craft workshops were rammed most of the time, Andy and Mandy's lovely driftwood mobiles and dreamcatchers going down brilliantly, Deor overwhelmed with folks wanting wristbands, headbands, hair plaits and a host of other things that can be made with leather, and to my faint surprise and relief, I remembered what Andy had taught me the night before and showed folks how to make willow dreamcatchers! As well as willow and fabric mobiles and headdresses. Ages ago Sonia (of the original Collective) taught me how to make dreamcatchers, but I had totally forgotten how! - Only retaining the all-important knowledge that I knew I could do it. Always vital.
    The festival was (oddly, as the bands last year were more to my taste!) better this year, I felt, with more visuals etc.. But perhaps it was partly because we were properly booked for performing first and not craft, and knew what to expect... However, it is a danger with festivals (as with anything) - although I remember when I first spoke to folks who worked habitually at 'the festivals' it was so, and could hardly believe them! - that one gets jaded as there are definitely similarities, not least as in a summer many of the same acts or attractions tour, like oneself. So what was amazing the first time, novel the second time, can become 'oh it's those again' the third time. (I recollect last year thinking that if I saw those red lotus street lamps one more time...!) But actually they've all been great, and all different. So to still be fun (with us working four hours each day not including lugging, set up and take down time), after the larger festivals we'd been to, all I can say is, it must have been good!
   Thanks to Andi, Mandy, Sam and Alex for being such a great team! And to Majical Youth for booking us yet again.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Big Chill 2: The Art Trail

The Art Trail itself (an established feature at the Big Chill) was stunning, and it was a truly lush setting for the Illuminated Tipi (or rather, Haunted Tipi in this context). Our fellow Trail attractions were mainly exquisite light sculptures by Saatchi artists including some wonderful green lightning in the form of a static shape of rope light (?) stretched in angles over wire under a tree, florescent neon tubes in beautiful colours hanging from trees in a glade, in purple, red, blue, etc., and a fantastic tall sculpture made completely from found objects/recycled materials intricately put together as a tower and then lit with a circle of solar lights, and with threads tied all around it to form a sort of cone - which all looked amazing when lit up at night. We were opposite a yurt with a delicate shimmering projection of images sensitive to movement inside, and along the trail were two video projections, although we only caught one set of films - of flocking birds and old piers, atmospheric and eye catching. There were some funky love seats, big wooden benches with heart shapes and spray painted in striking colours and designs. The performance acts were some performance art of the durational/endurance variety involving what looked like space suits, some corde lisse aerial movement from a tree, and occasional music under the neon tubes in the glade - the first of which we missed sadly, as we were of course all on while the Art Trail was open from 9pm till 2am! - And ourselves in the Haunted Tipi.
    Whilst the area (behind the Enchanted Garden) was ambitious to put anything in - brambles, ant hills, nettles, thorn trees, and tucked away in the wood as well as hard to light even with powerful architectural lighting on some of the trees and installations (including the recycled sculpture and ourselves) and small spotlights studding the path, it was very beautiful and crazily atmospheric. To our surprise, hordes of folks trekked up the path and found us all, so whoever decided to locate it there was right about intrepid the festival-goers were likely to be! So while the space was somewhat of a challenge - the big pvc floor tarpaulin did save us the thorny ground, but it also was a fun surface for rugs and cushions to slide about on when folks came in to sit down and a few of the unwary went flying over an ant hill on a surface not entirely unlike a frozen windswept sea! And of course lugging everything there and back from a nearby field, and then finding things in the dark, as oddly, green and coloured lighting aren't nearly so easy to find objects in as daylight-colour light.
    However, despite all that, the setting was so striking and so picturesque that we fully understood why it had been set there, and the tipi all lit up at night on the hill, seen from below and from the path itself above, behind it a wonderful panorama of the sea of lights that was the rest of the festival site, looked so amazing that it made up for the bother.
   We just wished on Monday that we (all those on the Art Trail) had made an effort to have a drink or something together afterward! As we had all faced the same challenges and delights, and there was such a great deal of talent on the Trail. Thanks to Katie and Liam of the sculpture tower (artist Katie Surridge), for being such lovely company and to Lizzie Jordan of the yurt opposite for sharing our travails! Also to the love seat folks, and the green lightning and neon tube artists for making such lovely things to look at, ensuring that we didn't miss everything as some of the best stuff lay on the path to work! Also to Kelly of Festival Republic for booking us! It was a big success and a fabulous festival.